FarmPolicy

February 20, 2020

Reaction to Administration’s Farm Bill Proposal Continues

Categories: Farm Bill

I. Farm Bill
II. Sugar

I. Farm Bill

Bob Campbell, writing in yesterday’s Midland Reporter-Telegram (Texas), reported that, “Concerned about elements of the Bush administration’s proposed 2007 Farm Bill, U.S. Reps. Mike Conaway of Midland and Randy Neugebauer of Lubbock will take an independent approach to drafting the bill in the House Agriculture Committee.

“The Republicans said Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns’ plans to lower direct payment limitations and shake up loan rates and counter-cyclical commodity supports will be critically viewed.

“Conaway said Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson of Minnesota will begin ‘marking up,’ or writing, the bill in subcommittee hearings and recommend a plan that will differ substantially from Johanns’.”

The article also noted that, “When asked if non-farming district congressmen will support the administration and reverse needed ’02 programs, Conaway said, ‘That will be the challenge.

“‘A lot of people don’t like the way the current farm bill is structured. It’s always a fight when it comes to the floor and they’ve got us out-numbered.’”

Associated Press writer Sam Hananel reported on Monday that, “When Congress passed the last farm bill five years ago, Sen. Pat Roberts was firmly in the ‘no’ column.

“The latest version of farm legislation offered by the Bush administration last month hasn’t put to rest Roberts’ concerns, or those of other Kansas officials worried about its impact on the state’s farmers and ranchers.

“‘We want to do a lot more homework and run the numbers to determine what we really think the practical effect will be and then we’ll go from there,’ said Roberts, a Republican.”

The A.P. article indicated that, “‘There are some things that make a lot of sense to me and some things that are detrimental to the agricultural economy in Kansas,’ said Republican Rep. Jerry Moran, who represents all of western Kansas.”

Later the article noted that, “Kansas Farm Bureau President Steve Baccus says he wants federal lawmakers to ‘change the way they think about federal farm programs’ and preserve an economic safety net for producers through smart policies, not just ‘a government check.’

“Representatives of 21 Kansas farm organizations will travel to Washington next month to lobby lawmakers and administration officials on the farm bill.

“One of Roberts’ biggest concerns is that the plan would raise premiums for crop insurance, increasing costs for a large number of Kansas producers. At the same time, the Bush administration has consistently opposed separate disaster assistance legislation because crop insurance is available.

“‘How does taking additional money out of this risk management program help producers?’ Roberts said. ‘I don’t understand that.’”

The Associated Press reported yesterday that, “Delta Council President Tommy Gary says successful cotton farmers would be hit hard under proposed new standards for subsidies in the proposed 2007 farm bill.”

The A.P. article stated that, “‘We compete with countries that heavily subsidize their agriculture. We can’t survive’ without government price supports, Gary said.

“‘It’s not a good time to be writing a farm bill for cotton,’ he said.

“There are also several good proposals in the farm bill, he said, including ‘recognizing the need to continue farm income protection, world price competitiveness through marketing loans and marketing certificates, which are crucial to exporting our products.’

“Gary said Mississippi’s congressional delegation is aware of problems in the bill, and ‘I would be surprised if this were not changed.’”

Steven P. Wagner, writing yesterday at the In-Forum webpage (North Dakota) reported that, “The proposed 2007 federal farm bill poses serious threats to producers, conservationists and wildlife if Congress doesn’t revise it.

“Representatives from special interest groups said the proposed legislation, which would replace the 2002 version, leaves too many loopholes for commodity payments.

“‘We want stewardship, prosperity and fairness in the farm bill,’ said Brad Redlin, director of agricultural programs for the Izaak Walton League of America.

“The group sponsored the first of six farm bill forums here Monday. The forum aimed to focus on common ground shared by agricultural and conservation groups in an effort to shape a new farm bill, expected to be voted on by Congress later this year.”

Mr. Wagner also reported that, “Doug Peterson, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, said many believe the 2002 farm bill served farmers well.

“He took the Bush Administration to task Monday for proposals within the new version, which would reduce farm spending by $18 billion over the next five years.

“‘I’m tired of hearing how much is wasted on farm programs,’ Peterson said. ‘I think we’re getting a pretty good bang for the buck.’”

In other Farm Bill related news, Associated Press writer Frederic J. Frommer reported yesterday that, “Sen. Amy Klobuchar is urging the Senate Agriculture Committee chairman to include a host of provisions in the next farm bill aimed at helping to reduce global warming, arguing that agriculture can play a constructive role in helping the environment.

In a letter Tuesday to Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Klobuchar wrote, ‘I respectfully request that agriculture’s role in fighting climate change be made a major new focus of the next farm bill.’

“Klobuchar, a freshman Minnesota Democrat, said she will introduce a package of incentives in the coming months with an eye toward including them in the farm bill.”

Dan Looker reported yesterday at AgricultureOnline that, “Congress hasn’t yet decided how much money will be allocated for the 2007 farm bill, but with higher commodity prices, it appears that the spending baseline will be about $18 billion less than what was allocated for the 2002 farm bill, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) told Iowa Farmers Union members last weekend.

“Tuesday, Grassley said that he’s hopeful that at least some of the $18 billion will be added back for spending in the next farm bill, because the Senate Budget Committee is headed by Kent Conrad, a Democrat from another farm state, North Dakota. And, he pointed out his fellow Iowan in the Senate, Agriculture Committee chairman Tom Harkin, is also arguing for more spending. Grassley sits on both the Agriculture and Budget committees. Restoring funds will be harder in the House of Representatives, he said.

“‘I think there’s a good chance we’ll have some of the money restored. We probably are dreaming if we think we’ll have all $18 billion restored,’ he said.”

With respect to the budget, Ark. Dem. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, in an update posted yesterday at The Hill Blog, stated that, “Last week, the President sent Congress a budget request which does not reflect a strong commitment to the people of rural America. The President’s budget proposals would cut deep into programs important to the quality of life in rural communities, in areas such as health care, education, law enforcement, economic development, agriculture, Social Security, and funding for our nation’s veterans. Unfortunately, these proposals are nothing new.”

Yesterday, the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing on rural development issues, in coverage of the hearing, Joseph Morton reported in today’s Omaha World-Herald that, “The federal government could pour $500 million a year into rural development by carving off just 1 percent of annual farm bill spending, a Nebraska advocate for rural interests told the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“‘It would set off a wave of new opportunities in rural America,’ said Chuck Hassebrook of the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Neb.

“New funding on that kind of scale is unlikely in the 2007 farm bill, which is in its early stages on Capitol Hill. President Bush is trying to reduce domestic spending in his quest to eliminate the budget deficit, while many congressional Democrats have vowed to exercise budget discipline.

“Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the committee chairman, talked about the importance of rural development programs during a Tuesday hearing, but he, too, will have to juggle competing interests.

“Harkin is hoping to boost spending on conservation programs and renewable fuels such as cellulosic ethanol. And there always is pressure from farm groups to shift more money into commodity programs.”

***

A DTN article posted yesterday at DTNAg.com, provided an interesting perspective on some of the major players in the 2002 Farm Bill debate and drew comparisons and parallels to the 2007 Farm Bill debate that is currently underway.

According to the DTN article, “Former House Agriculture Committee Chairman-turned lobbyist Larry Combest, American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman and National Farmers Union President Tom Buis are not young or inseparable. But they have become the three musketeers of American agriculture.

“In 2002 they worked together to write and pass a farm bill that has become the most successful and popular in American history. Now it’s time for a new farm bill, and the question is will they stick together again? Or will the interests of their members and clients will drive them apart and make them less effective? This second story in DTN’s series on farm bill lobbyists looks at how their positions have evolved since 2002.

“There’s a small army of lobbyists working on the farm bill, but only Combest, Stallman and Buis have the experience, vision and reputation to see across the wide range of interests and encourage the compromises that are necessary to pass a final bill.

“Each of the three owes his standing in the agriculture community to that 2002 bill.”

The DTN article also stated that, “The Doha round is suspended and Farm Bureau members have resolved only to call for continuing the ‘concepts’ of the 2002 bill. Buis says that since the Democrats are in power, he has more trust in Congress to write an even better bill. Combest, meanwhile, has to contend with the proposals the Bush administration has made and how they would affect his clients.

“Buis’ members are pressuring him to push the Democrats into making sure that mandatory country of labeling for red meat and other products is put into effect, and Combest has to contend with the proposals the Bush administration has made and how they would affect his clients.

“At the same time, wheat, corn and soybean growers are all developing their own farm bill proposals while a host of conservation, nutrition and rural development groups want a bigger share of the pie.

“If these interests start fighting among themselves, the real role for Combest, Stallman and Buis will be to help members of Congress to get them to stop and accept a compromise.”

II. Sugar

Ian Swanson, writing yesterday at The Hill Online, reported that, “U.S. sugar producers, for years one of the most powerful lobbying forces in agriculture, suffered a bruising defeat in 2005 when Congress approved the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) over their strenuous objections.

“CAFTA allowed a limited increase of sugar imports to the U.S. from Central America, but domestic producers saw it as the beginning of the end for Big Sugar. Less than 18 months later, however, the industry appears stronger than ever in Washington, with longtime congressional allies in key positions of power on several House and Senate committees.”

The article noted that, “Besides [Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn)], sugar supporters include Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Sen. Byron Dorgan (N.D.), a member of the Senate Democratic leadership. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has also always supported the sugar program, according to Kevin Price, director of government affairs for American Crystal Sugar Company, which operates five refineries in the Red River Valley. “I’m optimistic we’ll get good sugar provisions in the farm bill,” said Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.), a former president of the American Sugar Cane League.

“American Crystal is one of several groups representing the U.S. sugar industry that stepped up their political activity in the wake of the fight over CAFTA. The cooperative spent a record sum — more than $1 million — on political contributions to House and Senate campaigns in the 2005-2006 election cycle, according to the PoliticalMoneyLine website. This is almost twice what the company spent during the 2002 cycle and $250,000 more than the total for 2004.

“About 60 percent of the donations went to Democrats, which reflects a trend in the sugar industry that is unusual in agriculture. Whereas most agriculture political action committees (PACs) give more to Republicans, sugar PACs generally have a slight preference for donations to Democrats.”

The article also stated that, “Sugar’s growing clout was also reflected in the Bush administration’s relatively timid proposals for sugar reform in the farm bill proposals it unveiled two weeks ago, according to some farm-group lobbyists. ‘We were pleasantly surprised by the administration’s proposal,’ said Phillip Hayes, a spokesman for the American Sugar Alliance.”

In a separate article by Ian Swanson, which was also posted yesterday at The Hill, he reported that, “Sugar companies from several African and Caribbean countries have formed a new coalition to lobby for the retention of the U.S. sugar program, which imposes high tariffs on imported sugar to protect U.S. producers.

“The International Sugar Trade Coalition (ISTC), formed in January, hired Washington attorney Paul Ryberg to lobby on retaining the current sugar program in the new farm bill that Congress is expected to write this year. Foreign sugar groups in the coalition include producers from Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Barbados, Mauritius, Belize, Ecuador, Guyana, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

“ISTC is also represented in Washington by Robert W. Johnson of Balch and Bingham LLP and by Harry Kopp, who is president of his own consulting firm.”

***

Although Dow Jones writer Bill Tomson reported yesterday that, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture ordered a shutdown Tuesday at 2 p.m. EST (1900 GMT) of its headquarters in Washington as part of a government-wide decision due to expected inclement weather,” Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns is scheduled to testify today before the House Ag Committee at 10:00 AM Eastern. To listen in, just click here.

-Keith Good

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